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Cranborne Woods (17 May, 1994)

for my mother

We stopped the car, ducked below the fenceFelt time unravelling in a revelationThe seconds fall and scatter into thousands

Of tiny saints, a reborn multitudeFlowing past the trees, through pools of sun,Each earthly form a spirit flame, pure blue.

They watched us drift among them, large as gods,As if we'd come as part of their parousiaTo stay with them forever in these woods.

As time grew darker we slipped away like ghostsAnd slowly drove . . . towards your death next MayWhen once again I saw the risen host

Could watch you walking weightlessly amongThe welcomers, the gently swaying throng. [End Page 40]

My Father's Flat

Tugging apart the curtains every dayHe always saw, three stories up, a grandSweep of the Thames, the trees of Battersea

And, squatting there, the Japanese pagoda—Inflaming, a parody of a bandstand,Its four sides flaunting a golden Buddha.

It glowed like a lantern near the glitzy braidOf Albert Bridge at night.        If he had crossedThe river he might have heard Renounce the world

Escape the gilded lips or seen Gautama lyingIn mortal sleep, his face relaxed, his flesh released;Even in death, teaching the art of dying.

At night, across the river two golden eyes burnInto the heavy velvet of the curtain. [End Page 41]

Kevin and the Blackbird

I never looked, but felt the spiky feetPrickling my outstretched hand. I braced my bones,My heart glowed from the settling feathered heat

And later from the laying of the eggsHeavy, as smooth and round as river-rolled stones,Warm as the sun that eased my back and legs.

When I heard the cheepings, felt the rising nestOf wings, the sudden space, the cool air flowAcross my fingers, I did not know the test

Had just begun—I could not bend my armsBut stood there stiff, as helpless as a scarecrow,Another prayer hatching in my palms—

Love pinned me fast, and I could not resist:Her ghostly nails were driven through each wrist. [End Page 42]

Brendan the Navigator

The naked hermit, cliffs of ice, the cold,The island of the saints emerging fromBlack fog as light, its shore of powdered gold

And apples ripening in every orchardThe youth who welcomed each of us by name—These died around the settled fires of Clonfert.

But Judas on his rock, wind-burnt, stripped wise,Writhing above the slaughter of the seaRemains pristine inside my deepest darkness

His eyes alert for the approach of demons—I see them glowing as when we rowed awayAnd hear his voice above the raucous ocean,

"Hell is stasis, keep heading for the sunAnd when you reach the light, sail on, sail on." [End Page 43]

Verbum: A Voice from the Book of Kells

"Remember this: I do not haveA name or face, or form,And words and paint prolong the lieThat I can be depicted: I am beyondAll sense of what 'beyond' can mean.To know me you must close your eyesAnd leave the road of affirmation,The road of thinking and imagining:Just be a pilgrim to yourself,Alert, not knowing where to go,But trusting in your ignoranceAnd travelling inward all the time.Watch out for clues and signs—observeThe spirals of your thoughts,The interlace of hopes and fears,The circles of your good intentionsRevolving ineffectually,The nibbling mice of jealousyAnd hissing serpent of resentment—Just watch your convoluting selfProliferate without your interveningUntil it dies away to nothingBut silence and a glowing stillness,As a stone exudes warm summer light;And in that pregnant emptinessYou may just glimpse meBut only unexpectedlyLike a half glance at a sunshaftErupting in a neighbouring field;And if you see me you've becomeThe unstained love you sought in me—Then who is who?The eyes through which you see are mine." [End Page 44]


He sits against a trunk and bendsHis knees, a lectern for his book;Thoughts...


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